Free Information vs Information Protectionism

Peter Wood
Sun, 27 May 2001 17:48:02 +0200

On Mon, May 28, 2001 at 01:01:30AM +1200, Paul Foley wrote:
> On Sun, 27 May 2001 13:16:06 +0200, Peter Wood wrote:
> [Life is]
> >> considerably less tangible, and vastly easier to copy than computer
> >> software, if that's your criterion 
> > Hah!!  You have never watched a woman give birth, then!  I think my
> > cdrw drive does things faster, easier, and less painfully and even
> > much quieter :-/ Also I think there is in fact nothing more tangible
> > than life.  Death and life are the most tangible, immediate,
> > *physical* things there are.  If you want to make a more accurate
> > comparison here, you should have said "person" not "life".  You are
> No.  "Person" implies human.  You apparently think I meant human life
> specifically; I didn't -- a bacterium constitutes life.  A person is
> far more complex than "life".

Well, at the risk of going off on a tangent, I don't think "person"
necessarily implies human.  It is not inconceivable that alien life
might qualify for "personhood".  Obviously I agree that a bacteria is
not a person :-) But I think you prove *my* point when you say "a
person is far more complex than life".  Life is something pretty
basic,(although that doesn't imply simple) and although we could argue
forever about borderline cases(1) like viruses, there is no doubt
whatsoever of wether any higher animal is alive or dead.  On the other
hand there is a lot of debate about who/what could qualify for
personhood.  I think most biologists will be able to agree on wether
any specific rat (for example) is alive or dead, but there will be
nothing like that sort of agreement regarding personhood of (for
example) an advanced artificial intelligence.

If I know everything relevant about the rat, I can determine without
doubt wether its dead or alive.  I can know everything relevant about
some hypothetical AI, and not be able to say for sure wether it is a
person or not. (And that's the most important thing, for moral

> > welcome to come and take my "person", though not my life.  Do you see
> What, kidnap you and sell you into slavery, you mean? :-)

No :-) My point is you can't take a person.  You can take someones
liberty (control of their body), but you *can't* take their person
from them.  The slave is no less a person than the free man.  Just
like I can't take your software from you, by copying it(2).  You still
have it, if I copy it.  It is impossible to "take" ideas, or
personhood or software from anyone in any way that makes sense.  If I
stole your cd's that is theft, because I am taking something away -
either you have it or I do.  But software is like ideas in the sense
that once you spread it/them to other people, you lose control of

> > Life is much more complex than *anything* human beings have ever
> > invented.  If you get into *any* branch of biology, it doesn't take
> Life occurs spontaneously and naturally.  What definition of "complex"
> are you using?

Difficult to truly understand.

> > long before you start finding white areas on the map.  Even stuff we
> > think is quite simple is not fully understood at the lower levels.
> And things we think are complex usually turn out not to be, once
> someone figures it out.  [Science is based on this fact!]

I disagree.  I think science gives us *models* which vary in their
ability to let us control our environment.  We like to think that each
new paradigm, that gives us greater power is finally the *truth*.  It
never is.  We don't understand nature.  We understand our models of
nature.  We can understand computers nearly perfectly because we
invented them.  We can understand our models (scientific theories)
because we invented them.

> > My bottom line on this issue is that software is ideas, and ideas can
> > not be owned, only kept secret.  I think this is a statement of
> > *fact*, not an opinion, because "ownership" properly refers to
> Software is not "ideas".  You could consider it to be the reification
> of an idea, but that's not at all the same thing.  I agree that the
> idea itself can't be owned.  

I think software *is* ideas, in the sense that it is made of ideas.
Another slant on it would be to call it organization.  It only has
meaning, and we can only use it, in so far as we interpret it.
Selling organization is perfectly legitimate, but once the cat is out
of the bag I don't think you can blame people for doing what comes
naturally , ie, sharing what costs next to nothing to copy.

> But a particular expression of it certainly can.  You're free to
> write your own expression of the same idea.

Just for the record.  I have no proprietary software on my machines.
I do not begrudge proprietary programmers their livelihood, but I
think the proprietary model is built on false premises, and would fall
flat on its face very quickly if it wasn't enforced by laws bought by
the corporations.  And probably will, anyway.


(1) Actually, I fear we could argue forever about anything.  

(2) I would scorn to just copy stuff and use it.  I would want to
reverse engineer.  I want *control* over my stuff, and what is on my
machine is *mine*.